For their first eight albums, up to and including 2009’s spectacular ‘Merriweather Post Pavilion’, Animal Collective honed new material at their effervescent live shows. That was where the Baltimore experimentalists liked to calculate exactly how their songs locked together and perfect every single detail of their thick sound. Last time around, though, they got burned. As they mapped out 2012’s ‘Centipede Hz’ on the road, each member (Panda Bear, Avey Tare, Geologist and Deakin) heard a different mix in his monitors and each entered the studio with a different idea of what worked. The result was a record none of the band was happy with.
So, for their 10th studio album ‘Painting With’, it’s all change. Deakin is sitting this one out (nothing sinister, just the way Animal Collective do business) and the band have returned to basic principles they never had. That means ‘jamming’. Luckily, this hasn’t resulted in an album of prog-rock atrocities. Instead, by sticking to Avey’s pre-album promise of “no BS”, they’ve reconnected with their pop smarts and come up with a concise and warm album.
America’s Sunshine State is celebrated as a “mystical place” on the toytown stomp of single ‘FloriDada’, and potential hit ‘Golden Gal’ bounces along prettily in a toast to gender equality (“You’re so strong/You should hold your head above them”). Of course it wouldn’t be Animal Collective without Avey and Panda Bear’s overlapping vocals valuing sound over meaning, or the acres of electronic noise everywhere. ‘Hocus Pocus’ disorientates with drone effects courtesy of ex-Velvet Underground guitarist John Cale, before surging into a sticky, psychedelic rush. ‘On Delay’ is busier still as its commanding two-note synth riff gives way to slammed beats and a rave break.
Yet out of this clatter they shape their own improbably lovely pop. “My parents yelled, ‘Beware of the ivory man!’” is an unlikely hook, but ‘The Burglars’ pulls itself together with the band’s beloved Beach Boys-y harmonies and the wordless chorus of ‘Bagels In Kiev’ flutters and chirrups like God’s own lullaby.
Overall, ‘Painting With’ is a dizzying, lurid treat, almost too much to take in, craving its natural habitat. And it’ll really come alive out in the wild.